Ontario's Three Days Grace are kinda a big deal on the other side of 'The Pond', an established arena act both in the US and their native Canada. Now they're intent upon coming for the rest of the world.
Ahead of their first UK show in a decade, TeamRock’s Gavin Lloyd sat down with vocalist Matt Walst, guitarist Barry Stock, bassist Brad Walst and drummer Neil Sanderson for the low-down on the band’s roots and their future plans.
Although you’ve achieved a lot Stateside, there’s a lot of people in the UK who are unfamiliar with your story: care to fill us in?
Neil: We were basically on the third day of ninth grade, high school. I knew I wasn’t going to play football and I needed a way to get chicks, so I was trying to find a band. I grew up playing piano, and drums, and stuff like that, so we formed a band a few days into high school. We started hanging out in Norwood, where Brad is from, a town of 1500 people, and we just started jamming out there. We’d play anywhere, we’d play pit parties, field parties, weddings, people’s living rooms, we opened for a movie once, that was really weird. Then we moved to Toronto to really pursue it and we lived in this shitty basement apartment together and just started playing. We met a producer who ended up producing a few songs for us and we ended up recording our first single with him, I Hate Everything About You. As soon as that happened we were able to shop the songs to American record labels and we had a few labels come up straight away and signed us, and we put the first record out in 2003.
So that song changed everything for you guys?
Neil: We’d wrote a lot of stuff before that, we’d written a ton of stuff and we’d been kind of banging our heads against the wall a little bit. But as soon as we had the right song it really connected with people. We wrote that song at 4 o’clock in the morning, and I don’t think we were sober at all. It was a really directly emotional song and people really connected with it.
Did you guys know that at the time? Did you know you’d just written the one?
Neil: Yeah, it felt right, it felt fresh and like real true emotion. All of our music has always come from a real place, we all write lyrics and melody together as a band, and we all play every instrument. So it always is about something we’ve gone through in our lives, losing someone close to you, addiction, or just observing the people’s lives around you.
Brad: That was the first song to really capture that and people gravitated towards it because it felt real.
Do you think writing about those personal issues is what captured people’s attention then?
Neil: Yeah, people are always looking for something real and genuine, not contrived. We’ve always stayed true to ourselves with that. Music’s always been therapeutic for us and we just write about things we’re going through. People can always tell when music is coming from a real place, and I think that’s one of the major connections between Three Days Grace and our fans.
Did you guys always have that goal of making it as a band?
Brad: I think once we moved to Toronto, we were trying to make it. But we were all going to school, and we all had jobs. We’d jam all night and then go to work. Try and have a career, but one of the best days was when we quit those jobs. You never expect to be in the position we are now. We all just wanted to play live and for us just playing live was always the goal.
A lot has happened since those days, especially the past few years, with your original vocalist Adam Gontier leaving. How did that come about?
Neil: It was a shock to us, we didn’t expect it, it was a bit of a blindside move. But things happen for a reason, life is about chapters and there’s a new energy in the band now. It’s had this rejuvenating effect on us as people, really re-inspired us as a band. These guys [Brad and Matt] are brothers, and so Matt grew up with us and we’re all family. In fact Matt co-wrote and collaborated on the first Three Days Grace album, as well as the most recent one, and of course the one we’re working on right now. So it was a really natural move to bring Matt in and it’s pretty crazy. We’re grateful that Three Days Grace fans have embraced it and they’re on this journey with us. We’re playing some of the biggest shows we’ve ever played now, the fan base have got a little bit younger, maybe because Matt’s a little bit younger. We don’t take that stuff for granted. Tonight’s the first show of a pretty lengthy European and Russian tour and we’re selling out all over the place, we don’t take that shit for granted. We’re just in a great place now, sometimes change is inevitable and we’re lucky to have a band that’s close and fans that embrace it.
When Adam left was there ever any thoughts to stop?
Neil: No, this band has always run a lot deeper than one person. We all write lyrics and music together so it’s a very collaborative effort.
Brad: After I got the phone call about his departure, I was literally sitting with Matt having sushi and I was like “What are you doing for the next three weeks? Let’s fucking go on tour!” We never doubted that we wanted to keep going . Luckily for us Matt was on a break and it was just the perfect fit.
So Matt how did you feel about joining the band? Were you excited? Was their any trepidation about a negative backlash from fans?
Matt: There were mixed emotions, I was freaked out, a little scared. My first show was in front of 8000 people in an arena, but as soon as we started it felt right and now we’re here.
You guys are writing a new album, how is it going?
Neil: It’s still very familiar, we’re kind of going back to our roots. The sound of the record, and the emotion of the first album that we made, we’re actually using the producer who did our first album. It’s really just raw emotion, talking about struggle, and things that you go through, addiction. Painkiller is the first single, it’s pretty representative of the sound we’re going for. It kind of reflects how everyone is addicted to something which is a scary notion when you think about it, and that song kind of happened naturally. With song writing with us we check everything at the door. We come in, it’s not about us, the most important person is the song. We’ve always trusted each other as song writers, if there’s three people who are jumping up and down about an idea, and there’s one guy who is on the fence about it, it’s not good enough. Everybody has to walk out of that room going “holy shit, that fucking rules”.
Was a raw, heavier sound for the new album a conscious decision, or was it something that just came naturally?
Neil: The last eighteen months of our lives, on a number of levels, personal, professional, have been fucking crazy. I think it was just a natural reflection of that, just the aggression there. Matt brings a real raw, aggressive vibe with his voice live so that spills into the music as well, and then working with the producer. I guess we did make a decision to really go back to what we were doing. We’re not afraid to change it up, the last couple of albums we went in different directions. But the next single’s called I Am Machine and it’s even heavier than Painkiller.
Obviously you’ve had a lot of success at home and in the US, where you play arenas. How do you feel about playing smaller shows here in the UK?
Brad: Some of my favourite shows have been club shows. Just dirty, bloody, sweaty, that’s my favourite. There’s such a great energy.
Neil: We’re a bloody band, we bleed a lot on stage, that’s no joke!
Has there ever been any bad injuries or incidents on stage for you guys then?
Barry: Last year, mid show, what I thought was really bad heartburn ended out turning into a full blown heart attack. I just kept taking Tums thinking why aren’t these Tums working?
Neil: You know Behind The Music? I challenge anyone to try and beat this one. This guy was taking Tums trying to take the edge of a massive heart attack so he could finish the show!
There are already fans queuing for your show tonight, so clearly you have some dedicated fans in the UK. Is it good to get to play for them again?
Neil: I was just walking down the street a couple of hours ago, and this guy came up to me and was like “I’ve been waiting to see you guys for eight years, man! Your music absolutely changed my life, it’s the only reason I’m alive today.” I was just walking down Camden, like holy shit, that stuff is crazy. That’s gratifying as an artist to have that effect on people, here we are on the other side of the ocean and to have that response is like wow.
Matt: It’s good to just get out of North America, because we’ve been to every province, every state, every city and we keep just going back to them. It’s nice to get out and see new places.
Neil: And the food over here is much less salty! It’s nice to get away from the sodium!
What does the future hold for Three Days Grace? Will we be seeing more of you in the UK?
Neil: We’ve definitely decided to focus on overseas and global, it’s time for us to do that. For a number of different circumstances we haven’t done it in the past, and the power of social media now, we have so many fans from all over the world reaching out to us and we hear them. It’s time now to really go out and go to these places we haven’t been, or have only been once, and not just once or twice but come back. We’re going to come back here next year. There’s talk of some massive festivals we’re going to be playing over here, but I don’t think it’s totally confirmed, so I can’t embellish on that yet, but we’re going to be back next year, and again, and again. It’s mainly just down to the salty food, we want to get away from the salty food.